Topeka Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little acknowledged Tuesday that she faces an uphill battle in convincing the Kansas Legislature to dedicate state funds to cover at least part of the cost of a new $75 million medical education building. But she remains optimistic it can happen.
“I hope that they're receptive,” she said. “We were here today to talk to them to make the case more clearly for the medical education center, and I know there are some people we've talked to who are very receptive, and we hope to talk to others.”
The new building would replace an aging facility that Gray-Little said is obsolete and allow the university to expand its medical training programs.
“We need to replace physicians at a much higher rate than we are able to do,” Gray-Little said, noting that Kansas currently ranks 39th in the nation for the number of doctors for its population. “Our current facility is inadequate, even if we stay at the same size. And the adequacy of the facility is one of the criteria in the accreditation and evaluation.”
But the job of making that case to legislators became even more difficult Tuesday when her appearance before the Joint Committee on State Building Construction was canceled.
The meeting, which will be rescheduled, was called off when House members could not attend due to extended debate in that chamber on a bill dealing with same-sex marriage.
Lawmakers have already gave KU authority to issue $75 million in bonds to finance the building. But they have not agreed to provide any additional funding to help KU repay those bonds. In fact, lawmakers last year cut state general funding across the board for higher education.
Gov. Sam Brownback has called for restoring the general funding cuts for higher education. But so far, he too has not endorsed helping KU pay for the new medical education building.
“We're not requesting all of the funding from the state,” Gray-Little said, “but state contributions would be important and necessary to have it happen.”
Gray-Little said part of the state funding could come from a recent refund of about $25 million in Social Security contributions that the university had paid on behalf of its medical school residents who, it was later determined, were not required to pay into the program.
On top of that, she said, the university is seeking about $1 million a year over the next 15 years in state general fund appropriations.
The rest, she said, would come from a combination of university funds and private donations.
The committee has not announced when the discussion of that proposed funding will be rescheduled.